ANAHEIM--Korea has built its undefeated run through the World Baseball Classic on the power of its star first baseman, Seung Yeop Lee, and its core of major league pitchers such as Jae Seo, Byung-Hyun Kim and Chan Ho Park. Big league hitters are familiar with all of them.
They are less familiar with Tae Hyun Chong, the sidearmer who faced and struck out three Mexican batters Sunday night in Korea's 2-1 victory. But big leaguers such as Brad Wilkerson, Adam Everett and Doug Mientkiewicz should remember Chong well.
That's because Chong starred for Korea's 2000 Olympic team, facing Team USA twice in a pair of classic battles against Roy Oswalt. The Americans won both games on late home runs by Mientkiewicz--an eighth-inning grand slam to break a scoreless tie in the round robin, and a walk-off, ninth-inning solo shot that won the semifinal for the U.S., which was on its way to a gold medal.
Chong, who was the lone amateur on Korea's team in 2000, pitched 13 1/3 innings against Team USA that year, allowing just two runs for a 1.35 ERA while striking out 11 and walking just two. Team USA hitters had significant trouble picking up his offspeed, submarine delivery, and the same was the case for Mexico.
"I've had this delivery since high school," said Chong, speaking through an interpreter. "My role on the team now is as a setup man, but I hope to be a closer, a top closer. And I especially want to play in the U.S. someday."
Chong's career in Korea has been stalled by arm injuries, but he certainly looks healthy now. He could get his chance--as could other Korean players--if they continue to perform at a high level in the Classic. American manager Buck Martinez was impressed with Korea even before his team dropped a 7-3 decision Monday night, and Martinez likened Chong to Chad Bradford.
"You have to be patient more than anything, just to pick the ball up. But we recognize he's got great stuff," Martinez said. "He certainly looks like a guy that would be a very interesting pitcher in anybody's bullpen."
--JOHN MANUEL/JIM McLAUCHLIN
Delgado Ain't Got It
SAN JUAN, P.R.--Carlos Delgado sat out yet another game on Monday night, and it is looking increasingly likely that he won't play in the second round of the World Baseball Classic either. Delgado missed all three games in the first round with tendinitis in his left elbow. Delgado didn't take batting practice before Monday's game and will again be a game-time decision Wednesday when Puerto Rico plays Cuba.
Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo and the team's general manager Lou Melendez decided on Saturday to keep Delgado on the team's 30-man roster for the second round and hope for the best. The team said Delgado's condition continues to improve in small increments and his status remains day-to-day.
"I understand it was a difficult decision on Saturday," tournament promoter Antonio Munoz said. "It's tough having all this uncertainty surrounding him. We could use him."
Juan Gonzalez, who has been working out on his own this winter but did not play winter ball, was one of the players under consideration to replace Delgado.
No intimidation Here
The Cubans have long been known as intimidators on the international stage, but Puerto Rico bullpen coach Gil Rondon said that approach isn't going to work here against big leaguers. His comments proved prophetic when the Dominican's David Ortiz hit a long homer Monday, then flipped his bat and stared down chatty Cuban catcher Ariel Pestano--as if the home run didn't say enough.
"They'll stare you down, brush you back, hit a few batters, anything they can to get a psychological edge," Rondon said. "They tried it against us but they're finding out it's not going to work.
"They tried to stare us down, we just glared right back at them and let them know that we weren't going to be intimidated. They threw at our batters, we threw right back at them. You have to stand your ground against them because they look to get any advantage they can."
Braves Sign Aussie Submariner
Australian righthander Peter Moylan opened eyes in Pool D when he came in against Venezuela throwing in the mid-90s. He was so impressive that the Braves signed him to a minor league contract.
The former Twins farmhand, who pitched two seasons in Rookie-ball in 1997-98, rejuvenated his pitching career last June by dropping his arm angle to low three-quarters. He also has overcome a litany of injuries that includes two back surgeries. In the process the pharmaceutical sales rep went from throwing in the high-80s to the mid-90s. He showed his newfound velocity against Venezuela by fanning Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Ramon Hernandez.
The 27-year-old, who is affectionately referred to as "Wild Thing" by Australian manager Jon Deeble in honor of Charlie Sheen's character in "Major League" because of his sideburns, glasses and tattoos, lived up to the moniker in his only WBC outing.
He impressed the scouts with his fastball that touched 96 and four strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings, but the righthander also went through a stretch where he threw 11 straight balls and walked five and allowed an earned run in his brief stint.
"I thought it was time for me to forget about playing professionally,'' Moylan told the Australian website baseballvictoria.com. "I was just going to worry about work and my family, and just play in the state leagues here. But, to get to 27 and have people offering me contracts, it's unbelievable.''
Pitching For More MLB
Tournament promoter Antonio Munoz said he expects in excess of 15,000 fans per game at Hiram Bithorn stadium for the second round of the World Baseball Classic, a figure that he hopes will land him some major league games in the future.
"It has to make a positive impression," said Munoz, who brought the team formerly known as the Montreal Expos to San Juan for 22 games in 2003 and 2004. "There are a couple of teams who have expressed interest in playing some of their regular-season games down here, the Marlins are one. Hopefully we'll sit down and talk with (Major League Baseball officials) after this series and see what we can work out."
Paul Danforth, the Mets' vice president of sales and services, was in the stands with officials from Banco Popular Inc., at Monday's game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The Mets are reportedly discussing the possibility of bringing a three or four game series against the Florida Marlins to Puerto Rico in 2007.
Only one game sold out in the first round of the tournament--Puerto Rico's 12-2 knockout victory over Cuba. Average attendance for the games in Puerto Rico was just under 13,000 per game. So far two of the first four have sold out in the second round and the other two games have averaged just over 10,000 fans. If that trend continues Wednesday, Munoz would be right at his goal. Capacity at Bithorn Stadium is 19,726.
• Cuban manager Higinio Velez surprised Venezuela by bringing his ace Pedro Luis Lazo out of the bullpen in the fifth inning of his team's 7-2 victory on Sunday. Lazo pitched the final 4 2/3 innings of the game to get the save. Because Lazo threw more than 50 pitches--he logged 78 against Venezuela--he is ineligible to pitch Wednesday against Puerto Rico. Yadel Marti, who allowed just two hits over four scoreless innings on Sunday, threw 71 pitches and is ineligible as well.
• ESPN continues to report strong ratings for the Classic. Sunday's tripleheader gave ESPN2 its biggest audience of the year, with the Team USA-Japan tilt drawing a 1.4 rating, representing more than 1.26 million homes. The Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic (1.3, 1.21 million) and Mexico-Korea (0.8, 678,000) games also attracted large numbers of viewers. Earlier in the tournament, ESPN2 had a 1.5 rating for Team USA's 8-6 loss to Canada. For comparison's sake, ESPN2's biggest rating for any game or show in March 2005 was a 1.1 for a men's basketball game in the National Invitation Tournament. Four of the top five ratings for ESPN2 this year have been WBC games. The event was averaging a 0.6 rating through 16 games, including a 0.8 (758,000 homes) for the live games. The five games shown on ESPN have averaged a 0.6, including two live games that averaged a 0.9 (892,000 homes).
• Injuries were a major concerns of major league general managers heading into the first Classic, but just three major leaguers have reported only significant injuries that have affected their playing time. A right hip flexor is bothering Dominican third baseman Adrian Beltre, and he's been giving way to a defensive replacement late in games. Back pain sidelined the Netherlands' Andruw Jones for the team's finale Friday after hurting his back slipping on the steps at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. American outfielder Johnny Damon is battling left shoulder soreness and is doubtful for Team USA's final second-round game against Mexico.
• The most significant injury yet happened to Korean third baseman Kim Dong Joo, who batted cleanup in Korea's opener against Taiwan. He separated his left shoulder sliding into first base and was replaced on the roster for the second round by Jeong Seong Hoon.